A Study Just Linked City Parks To The Feeling You Get On Christmas
Kelly Gonsalves is the sex and relationships editor at mindbodygreen. Her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.
Today in adorable scientific studies that somehow exist in the world: Researchers have just found city parks apparently give a boost to our moods and well-being that's equivalent to the one we get on Christmas morning.
We know from dozens of studies from around the world that being in nature can have almost magical effects on our physical and mental health: It lowers our cortisol levels, calms our brain's natural fight-or-flight response, can reduce inflammation and lower our blood pressure, and can even aid in our recovery from illness or injury. One study earlier this year found spending just 20 minutes in nature can dramatically cut our stress levels.
The new study published this week in the journal People and Nature used a pretty unique method to measure just how much being in nature affects people: Twitter. Researchers analyzed tweets from 4,688 users who had their location tagging feature turned on such that their location could be pinpointed. The researchers used a sentiment analysis tool to examine the types of words that people used before, during, and after a visit to an urban park. Specifically, they were looking at the "psychological valence" or "emotional temperature" of the language people used in their tweets.
They looked at hundreds of tweets per day for three months in the San Francisco area and found people's language had a huge bump in positive sentiment while in parks. "Yes, across all the tweets, people are happier in parks," said Aaron Schwartz, a University of Vermont graduate student who led the study, in a news release. "But the effect was stronger in large regional parks with extensive tree cover and vegetation." In other words, greener park areas led to a bigger boost in mood.
Overall, they found the increased feelings of positivity people experienced from spending time in a park was equivalent to increased positivity documented in people on Christmas Day. That's pretty dramatic!
The study also found people's use of self-centered words like "I" and "me" dropped significantly while inside a park, which the researchers say suggests "a shift from individual to collective mental frame." People's use of negative language (such as "no," "don't," and "can't") also decreased after a visit to a park.
These are subtle but powerful changes to our energy.
"Whether we are leaning against an isolated tree in our neighborhood or fully immersed in natural landscapes on a backpacking trip, our brains are able to return to a more primitive rhythm as it connects with the angle of light from the sun and calms with the physiological release of the happy neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine," holistic neurologist Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., recently told mbg. "It does not even have to be a long exposure. Even 20 minutes per day can have this effect."
So there you have it! Nature feels as good as Christmas, according to actual science.